We spent a weekend in Maryland doing hikes, checking out Deep Creek Lake and other sites along the way. The highlight of the trip was the short Swallow Falls Canyon Trail at Swallow Falls State Park.
This seems to be a popular hike. Even though the parking lot seemed fairly full when we arrived we did not encounter many people. It never felt crowded on this Saturday in late September. But we were there rather late in the day so it might have been more crowded earlier.
Our schedule had us finishing the trail around sun down and by the time we got back to the parking lot two hours later, it was mostly empty. There were about 40 regular parking spaces and four handicap spots.
There are just a couple of benches sprinkled along the trail, mostly near the top. There are no trash receptacles along the trail. The bathrooms are located at the parking lot. Do not count on cell phone service for directions, although it seemed we kept a signal the whole time we were on the hike.
From Swallow Falls State Park website: “The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, as well as weekends in May, September and October $3/person for Maryland residents, $5 for out of state residents. All other times $3/car for Maryland residents, $5/car for out of state residents.” (I would bring some cash so you can pay when the attendant is not there.)
Hours of Operations: March through October: 8 a.m. to sunset // November through February: 10 a.m. to sunset
The trail is through an 40-acre grove of very old virgin hemlock and white pine trees. Centuries old. It is the last grove of trees of this type left in Maryland.
The trail also forms a 1.25 mile loop, with Muddy Creek Falls at the northern point and Tolliver Falls at the southern.
I will call the portion closest to the parking lot as the “Upper Trail” with the portion going closest to the rivers the “Lower Trail.” The lower trail follows the Youghiogheny River, as well as Muddy Creek and Tolliver Creek.
Muddy Creek Falls
There is one section that is wheel-chair accessible. There is actually a small handicapped parking lot with it’s own road to get you closer to the trail (see the Park Ranger or the map for access).
As you can see from these pictures, it has a boardwalk with a bench. There is another bench at the end near the falls. This is the shortest part of the trail and the easiest. However, the boardwalk may be slick if wet.
If you did not have the strength to continue the rest of the hike, rest assured you are not missing too much. The 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall within the state of Maryland. Compared to Swallow Falls, I believe the Muddy Creek Falls are the prettiest and worth the trip alone.
Apparently, the Muddy Creek Falls have had some famous visitors in the past. This historical marker states:
“In August 1918, and again in July 1921, Henry Ford, Thomas A. Edison, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs and company encamped here by Muddy Creek Falls.“
Talk about a “power powwow!” Wonder what they were scheming up?!
Well, actually they called themselves “The Vagabonds.”
There are several articles on Maryland’s DNR website which give further details about their trip. Here is one: The Vagabonds Camp at Muddy Creek Falls
“I like to get out in the woods and live close to nature. Every man does. It is in his blood. It is his feeble protest against civilization.’’ Thomas Edison at Muddy Creek Falls, 1921
“Upper Trail” to Swallow Falls
For those who are a little more mobile, but have weak ankles or knees or not a ton of strength stored up for the day, I would suggest staying along the top of the loop trail – the portion closest to the parking lot. (This suggestion is from my mom.)
You can still reach the rest of the waterfalls using this path, with period climbs down to the falls. Of course, you will have to come back up, but if you take your time, I think you will enjoy it. (See the following pictures.)
“Lower Trail” to Swallow Falls
For the rest of us, you will want to do the loop trail down next to the river. This is an easy (to moderate) loop hike but there is a small amount of elevation change along the trail.
I would consider a nice pair of hiking boots or strong shoes along this rocky path. The trail is safe if you stick to it and use common sense. There are signs along the trail to remind you to “Exercise Caution.” We did not see any exceptional wildlife on the day we were there. Most of the trees are evergreens and so I think the foliage would be about the same most of the year.
Even though it was early autumn when we went the trail was fairly shady and cool. We started off on the trail in a clock wise direction visiting Muddy Creek Falls first. This is a tall water fall that had a moderate amount of water flowing over it at the time we visited. I think after a large rain that the rivers and falls would be very wild. The trail arrives at the top of the falls and you can walk out onto the rocks at the top. There is no railing. It would unwise to approach anywhere near the edge especially if the rocks are wet. Just don’t risk it. Keep a close eye on your kids.
From Muddy Creek Falls the trail continues down along the river after descending some very sturdy stairs which offer nice views of the falls. The path is fairly clear but occasionally there are roots that stick out that can be tripped on if you are not careful.
The river flows over large slabs of rocks creating white water. The impression you get is that the river is located and flowing through a forest. It was pretty cool. There are many interesting rock formations which overlook the river.
Due to the white water, swimming is not recommended by me! The river can contain unseen hazards, rapids, swift currents, cold water, slippery rocks and rough terrain. Although it is apparent that people use this trail to get to several swimming holes during the summer. I would think that based on river levels and swimming ability, parents would not promise a swim unless they deemed it safe upon arrival. There are no lifeguards and you are somewhat remote.
As we continued we ran into another party approaching us. To our surprise they said they had been walking down river, which was confusing because we were also walking down river. After looking at the map we figured that we had been walking down stream on Muddy Creek and they had walking downstream of the Youghiogheny and we were right about at the spot where the two combined into the main flow of the Youghiogheny.
Remember this is is a fairly short loop hike and it wasn’t long until we arrived at Lower Swallow Falls and then shortly after that Upper Swallow Falls. Along the way you are treated to beautiful views of the forest and the river. Very cool. Very beautiful and serene. (I won’t show you any pictures of Swallow Falls, it’ll have to be a surprise – part of the hike!)
Near the end of the trail, at the southern point, you will come to Tolliver Creek with Tolliver Falls halfway up the hill.
The area around this and the path is covered with sand. My dad pointed out that the flow out of the pool is less than the flow of water into the pool at the falls. Therefore, there must be an underground path somewhere below this swimming hole.
Now this probably would be an area I would allow my kids (if & when I ever have any) to safely swim below the falls. As always, rocks are slippery when wet (& that includes wet feet). Just be careful.
The main “Upper Trail” is at the top of this hill, and I think there was a bench there as well.
For Next Time – Another Option
Of course, I think we traveled uphill most of our trip on the loop. You may want to consider going in the opposite direction so you are traveling slightly more downhill. Start by turning right onto the main path and go towards Tolliver Falls first, working your way back to the biggest & most spectacular Muddy Creek Falls at the end of your trip.
The Canyon Trail leading to Muddy Creek Falls & Swallow Falls is located at: 2470 Maple Glade Rd Oakland, MD 21550 within Swallow Falls State Park near the border of Maryland & West Virginia.
You can use this link for directions: Directions using Google Maps
We had cell phone signal the whole time. As usual, it would be wise to have a hard copy map of the trail and general area just in case.
You can more detailed information about the state forest here: Swallow Falls State Park website
Swallow Falls Pet Policy
From Swallow Falls State Park website (accessed on Sept 30, 2021):
- Pets are not permitted in the day use area or on the Canyon Trail between the Saturday before Memorial Day and Labor Day. Pets are permitted in the day use area after Labor Day to the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.
- Pets are allowed in the campground.
- Pets are allowed on trails that connect with the state forest.
- Pets must remain on a leash and under control at all times.
This hike is located near the town of Oakland, Maryland. The next closest town would be the Deep Creek Lake area, which is also close by.
Since, we did not pre-plan our trip, we arrived late on a Saturday night when it was already dark. Thus, we had difficulty finding vacant lodging so we decided to drive west towards Morgantown, WV and stayed at a nice Microtel Inn – located off the Interstate 68 in Hazelton, WV. It was nice, clean, and cheap. They also had a waffle breakfast, with muffins and juice.
Oakland seemed to have a couple of motels, and some family-owned restaurants as well as some fast food available. It has an old main street and a neat-looking park with walking trails and a playground. There looks to be plenty of antique shopping and it has some cool museums (that we didn’t have a chance to explore) but would be great options for kids. Plus, they are all within a couple of blocks of each other:
The Deep Creek Lake area is a resort town with Deep Creek Lake State Park along a section of this huge lake. There is a ton of lodging options as well as food available. However, we did not have reservations and just needed a simply place to stay. Looks like there are SUP & kayak rentals available. Even though it was cold, we saw a couple of boats out fishing. Most boats were tied up to private docks & marinas. I believe most homes around the lake were rentals.
- Deep Creek website – look for lodging & rentals / also look for recreation & attractions
We went on this hike as part of a weekend trip to Maryland. We also went to the Rock Maze Trail, which is the adjacent park. You many even want to try these hikes on the same day, depending upon your schedule and plans.